When a child is eating dinner, sometimes they don’t necessarily like the food in front of them. The child will spit the food out, turn away, or not open their mouth. Most parents would just consider this child a picky eater. But is that actually the problem? Some kids are picky eaters, but others may have a feeding disorder.
It is said that 1-3% of infants and children will develop a feeding disorder. A feeding disorder is a disorder in which the child does not eat enough to provide their body with the appropriate amount of nutrition, calories, or hydration. The lack of substances that nourish the body can create developmental and growth delays. When contemplating whether your child has a feeding disorder or is just being picky, here are a couple of guidelines to tell the difference.
When a child is a picky eater, they will eat a small variety of about thirty different foods. They will eat some foods for about a week, take a break, and then resume eating that food after about two weeks. They tend to touch or taste new food that has been put on their plate. They also accept at least one food from every texture type. When a child has a feeding disorder, they eat a very small variety of foods, usually less than twenty different foods. Normally, foods that were previously eaten by the child are not received again. If given new foods, the child will not tolerate it and usually will throw a tantrum. A child with a feeding disorder will also refuse entire types of textural foods. There are also other signs that a child may have a feeding disorder. These include persistent weight loss or poor weight gain, gagging, choking, coughing, or vomiting during meals, and family reports of difficult meal times and difficulty feeding their child.
Treatment for a feeding disorder can involve a team of many professionals. These include the child’s pediatrician, a nutritionist, a behavioral psychologist, a social worker, a speech therapist, and an occupational therapist. Usually, the lead professional for feeding therapy is the speech therapist. However, occupational therapists are vastly used in the treatment as well. The main role of the occupational therapist is to help the child with their feeding needs based on their body structure and how they use it, also know as oral-motor therapy. For example, occupational therapists can help a child learn how to chew and swallow different textures of food as well as help them learn how to sip from a cup. They also can modify the foods and liquids to help them swallow more efficiently, provide treatment strategies to strengthen their muscles which helps reduce the possibility of reduced muscle tone, and modify the environment to promote safety, independence, and function. Occupational therapists are also qualified to do screenings, assessments, and treatments of feeding therapy.
Would you like to learn more about feeding disorders and pediatric occupational therapy?
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